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China Seeks to Limit Runaway Actors’ Pay

The Chinese government may seek to put limits on the pay of actors and actresses in a bid to curb runaway inflation of talent remuneration.

The State Administration for Press Publication Radio Film and Television (SAPPRFT) said Friday that it would hold discussions with performers’ guilds and with film and television companies, according to a report in The People’s Daily. The regulator’s objective, according to Xinhuanet, is to establish self-discipline, rather than impose regulation.

The same day state-owned broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) published a report showing that some of the most popular talent can now earn $15 million (RMB100 million) for a movie or for a TV series.

The problem of escalating salaries and fees for on-screen talent is widely known in China and has caused significant distortions in the Chinese industry compared with some overseas. In some instances, 50%-70% of Chinese films’ production budgets are spent on talent. That leaves little finance remaining for other production elements including facilities, crew, post-production and VFX.

In another curiosity, producers have told Variety that it has become hard to secure talent for movies as stars can now earn as much for a single TV appearance as they can for shooting a feature film over several weeks.

Talent costs have been driven up by China’s rising box office and then accelerated by the huge amounts of hot money that has been drawn into Chinese entertainment by that box office success. New investors from outside the sector, have regularly focused on star names, increasing still further the payday for the supposedly most bankable stars.

Some Chinese stars now also earn vast amounts from endorsements and advertising contracts, or from stock market vehicles, where small investors are similarly drawn to celebrity names. That has allowed some to almost withdraw from acting and instead trade on their celebrity alone.

It remains unclear whether government intervention will cure China’s talent fee troubles, or whether the problem is best left to the mechanics of the free market. The past three months have seen a sharp slowdown in theatrical box office, suggesting that star power is a poor guarantee of ticket sales. If that situation becomes prolonged, stars and producers may eventually be forced into a financial reality check.

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